India is a country on the rise in international Ultimate. The release of the video ‘175 grams’ catapulted them into the collective zeitgeist, and they’ve stayed there ever since. India have been determined. They’ve been hardworking. In the same breath, it has been their wonderful approach to the game that has seen them win the spirit prize on numerous occasions.
In 2011, they entered their first Men’s team into WCBU. In 2015, they added a Men’s Masters team. Now, in 2017, they’re here with both Mixed and Men’s Masters.
The Men’s Masters team is looking cheery and confident as they stroll into their first day of games. Watching them play, I see why. Even though some of the players have experience on beach, they all play like a team proud to represent their country for the first time. While a little bit inexperienced on a few of the throws, they run hard for every disc and are willing to get horizontal if they need to bail out their teammates. This drive saw them run an experienced GBR side close (12-9), and beat a good Singaporean side (12-7).
Although, this team itself is quite inexperienced, on the whole. But India have been around for some time now, and several players have started to prove themselves at this level. After two games, Vinyak ‘Pixie’ Puthran has twice as many goals as anyone else on the team, and more than twice as many assists. He was top statter for the team at WCBU 2015 too, so that shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
Manickam ‘Manix’ Narayanan comes in second, after also representing at WUGC 2016. He’s the President of India Ultimate, and wants to do his country proud. Ten of the fifteen-man side have two stats or fewer. However, given that that includes captain Vijay Rao, it’s clear stats don’t tell the whole story.
The team is enthused with an energy that seems infectious. Head Coach Apurva Kothari can often be seen joining in, yelling at his troops and sorting them into lines. It is while this happens on one particular occasion that assistant coach Melanie Chowgule lets me know some of the team backstory.
The vast size and diversity of India also poses them other challenges that other nations don’t come up against. The teams comes from all over India and consequently this can make travel very difficult for them. As a result they only trained together four times before coming to France. Moreover, not all players share the same mother tongue and have to find a common language in English. Lastly, much of their efforts are spent on fundraising, taking time away that they could focus on the field.
Despite all the challenges they face, they still should not be discounted. They had two warm-up games on Saturday (unofficial ones, before the tournament began). In them, they beat Ireland 11-8 before losing to New Zealand. Now, their reward after their first two official games is a place in the top half of their pool heading into the second day.
India as a country is growing as a force in Ultimate. And this Men’s Masters team is evidence of that.
By Harry Mason.